Thursday, 30 April 2009

Some of my best friends are seamonkeys

Don't ask me why I have a horse picture on this                   
 blog. It is far too complicated for you to understand.

I read loads of books this holiday which was great. My internet addiction was getting out of hand, so a two week break was just what I needed.

I happened to read another book by a South African author, a previously rare event that is becoming less rare. It was definitely worth shipping the thing across the seas and waiting for weeks.

It is called Some of my best friends are white by Ndumiso Ngcobo. If you happen to read Thoughtleader, I am sure you will agree that Ndumiso's blog is pretty much the only one worth reading these days. I find it hysterical and pertinent at the same time. He wrote this post about women having to pull cactus needles out of their butts after squatting to pee in the desert that really connected with me, man. Like, I could totally feel his empathy. And the visuals are still in my head today.

So anyway, his book  is great, it had me laughing out loud on the plane, which seemed to disconcert my neighbour. Ndumiso rips off many different types of people, behaviours and general South African madness.

His main concern with us whities is our supposed obsession with team building exercises that involve jumping out of planes and shooting paint at each other and such like.

 But you know, I am not so sure about this  supposed enthusiasm. Perhaps we should point him to Tamara's post on the subject. As far as I can see, most white South Africans think this behaviour is idiotic too, we are all just too chicken to say that we would all rather go drinking together. It must be the work of the few alpha Saffas who think that getting to know people better involves shooting them.

This problem does not seem to exist in the UK, where a team building exercise seems to consist of finding the nearest pub. Ndumiso, I think I have found you your new home.

I definitely recommend this book; it is short, it is funny and it is easy to identify with. After all, some of my best friends are white too, innit?

P.S. look out for his new book, entitled "Is it coz I'm black?". I will be buying this on Kalahari for sure.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

I am back. Or am I?

I may be back physically, but my mind is not with us right now. All I can think of is my next holiday, and where I can go, and why is the UK so freaking cold?

Nobody wants to read about someone else's holiday, and I am too jet-lagged to write anything coherent, so I will just put up a few pictures and say that I most definitely recommend both Thailand and Vietnam as tourist destinations to anyone. Sigh.

And P.S. loads of people blogged about their voting experiences. Thanks for keeping me updated!

Temple of Literature, Hanoi, Vietnam

Halong bay, Vietnam 

Halong bay

Koh Samet, Thailand

Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Angry expat

Can. not. wait.

I realised that I am going to be travelling in Thailand when South Africa has its elections on the 22d of April. I am leaving tomorrow morning.

My original intention with this post was to ask any blogging and tweeting South Africans to keep me informed by making noise about what goes on during the election. I will have limited to no internet access, and this is great, as holidays are for escaping from it all. But I really am interested in the elections. And it is amazing how hard this information can be to come by on the internet, despite it being a big event.

I am not talking about who the actual President will be, because that is a foregone conclusion. But I am interested in the stats, the provincial results, the controversies, and of course your opinions. I have never voted in an election before. I want to be a part of some kind of a democratic system in some country. Maybe one day. But til then, you guys can keep me connected.

However a post on SARocks yesterday pushed me to extend this post. This subject has been weighing on my mind for months now, but I put off writing about it, because I feel that I can add nothing fresh or intelligent to the discourse, and because no one wants to hear another expat going on about it.

But if I don't write this now then it will buzz around in my head until I explode. So I apologise in advance for writing a long and tedious and badly written post that no one would actually want to read other than me. This post is for me. It is for my sanity OK? 

I have not encountered this attitude in anyone who reads my blog regularly, you all seem pretty chilled. This post is directed at the general anti-expat negativity out there in the world.

So stop reading now and have a fantastic Easter if you celebrate it, and I will be back to blog my usual nonsense in a few weeks.

And P.S. thanks so much for making me a runner up in the SA blog awards. I am aware that "runner up" in this competition means only that I did not win, and so I am one by default, but hey, it has a cool ring to it :)



There is a huge "thing" about South African expats. I don't even know how to describe it. A negative vibe, a debate, a controversy? It is not quite any of these things. And yet there is so much negativity going around about expats that I feel I need to go on the defensive even though I am not entirely sure what I am defending, or why.

Whenever I read ThoughtLeader or forums or blogs on the subject of expats the same old arguments and antagonisms come up again and again. And it tires me now. I never even thought of myself as an expat until I became aware of this debate. I was just me, a spindrifting seamonkey, letting life take me where it wanted.

And now I feel defined by a word that has morphed and mutated and gained so many negatative connotations that I cannot even begin to relate to it. I have always abhorred labels of any kind. Labels that diminish potential, diminish you in the eyes of others, labels that bring only debilitating cliches and premature judgements.

We South Africans have always been excellent at dividing the world into binary oppositions. World experts in fact. If it is not black and white, then it is expat and... what? Real South Africans? Sometimes it feels that way. 

There is a lot of bad feeling about (usually white) expats in South Africa. Here are some of the reasons I have come across:

  • we are whiny. We whine about our new countries and we whine about the state of South Africa.

  • we are miserable and wish we were back home

  • some expats actively badmouth South Africa and seem to wish harm upon the place.

  • some expats are very bitter about the situation in SA and/or are racist.

  • we don't move on with our lives and leave South Africa behind.

All of these accusations are true of some expats. However many of them can be applied to South Africans in South Africa too. So why is there this bad name and strong negativity directed at expats?

 Because we are a minority. The sins of the few always stick to the many with minorities. It would be ludicrous to imply that all South Africans are whiny and miserable and racist just because some are. But when it comes to expats we are all lumped together.

I often encounter the attitude that expats no longer have valid opinions about the country, that we don't count because we are not there, and our views are treated as insignificant. The fact that we may show an interest in SA and care about what happens there is seen as not moving on. It seems we are expected to forget we ever were South African, and should miraculously become something else. Unfortunately things don't always work that way.

I ask, moving on from what? How can I move on from what is within me? 

I am a South African, a woman, a climber, a scientist, an expat, but none of these things are all there is to me. I don't walk around obsessing about South Africa to everyone I meet. But I cannot move on from something that makes up my psyche.

My head is filled with my daily life: food, work, friends, family, food, boyfriend, climbing, food, books, movies. FOOD. And yes, politics too. And yes, sometimes politics in South Africa. It is hardly my sole obsession but it interests me. 

For me, taking an interest in the state of South Africa is as natural as breathing because it is where I am from, and it is the country that shaped my view of the world, that made me who I am. 

And I love South Africa, flaws and all. I still hope to move back. I fully acknowledge that I may not. I think it would be self-defeating to decide to move back at the cost of all other options or situations that arise. But if possible I want to move back some day. When/if life leads that way.

I feel that I will always be passionately interested in SA, even if I never live there again. I blame studying  Philosopshy and Literature via UNISA (both subjects have strong African components); it keeps SA closer to my thoughts than I expected. I have to write essays about things like affirmative action, ok, and I have to research these things. How can I not reflect on the socioeconomic situation, the attitudes, the prejudices and the confused attitudes that make up the country?

Why do expats from other countries not have such strong and cliched connotations attached to themselves? Why is it such an emotive subject for South Africans? This question has been flying around for ages, and I do grasp the basic psychological theories, although I am sure there is more to it than these.

Firstly, expats sometimes leave because they feel forced to, either due to crime, or an inability to get jobs, or because they are afraid of the future in what they perceive as an unstable country. They are therefore angry or bitter and go through a phase of badmouthing the country and those who choose to stay. You who stay represent expats' disappointments and frustrations.

I had a friend who, because of bad personal experiences, went through this bitter phase. And yes, it was just a phase. He got over it. He now recommends SA as a holiday destination to everyone, and he is no longer bitter. People get over it.  Expats are not all permanently bitter and twisted. Any that are do damage only to themselves.

Then of course there are the people who are still in SA who lash out at expats. They are possibly feeling insecure about their decisions and take it out on expats, because we are seen as cowardly, apathetic or whatever other pejorative terms have attached themselves to this evergrowing cliche of a word. We are your scapegoats, people. We are an easy target. We represent your own insecurities.

Stop falling for the cliche. Nothing in life is as cut and dried as we so desperately wish it was. We all have our reasons for staying or leaving. Some of us in both cases are interested in the country, some are not. 

If we are, it is not always because we cannot move on, or are sad, or whatever. Maybe we have phases where these labels are true. But they are always phases. And being interested in your home country is natural. 

I know that I achieve nothing and provide no benefit to the country by being "interested" in  or "caring" about what goes on in SA. I am not so egotistical as to think I am a better person for taking an interest. I just do and I have the right to and I am not going to defend this any more. 

I am what I am, a South African who has hybridised to England, and may rehybridise somewhere else, and who mostly grapples with being the only non-Chinese person at her workplace.

I think what I am trying to say in my laboured and confused way is that we are all stumbling about trying to make sense of life. None of use know what is going on. We all go through phases, and we all change constantly. Nothing is fixed. We are all processes. We have to work it all out in our own ways.

Don't tell us to move on, as if we can discard South Africa like a piece of litter. We will if that is something that is necessary in the process of our lives. It is not a necessity for everyone. An expat is not only expat. And don't try to simplify complex issues by dismissing them with cliches. 

I am unapolagetically South African, now and probably in the future.  That is just me. I don't claim that for all expats. So write me and my opinions off if you want, but I am not going to subdue them any more just because I feel that you feel that they don't count.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Dream a little dream

I was never a dreamer. I had no clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was one of those freaks who loved school, who did well in all subjects. History was awesome, I loved Biology, loved Chemistry, English was my favourite. I even loved P.E.

This did not help me one bit in making a decision about my future. My decision to study Biology at university was a bit of an
eeny meeny miny mo kind of effort. That and the fact that there didn't seem to be many job prospects for a BA English graduate.

My point is that I was not a dreamer. Except for this one dream I had between the ages of 10 and 11 years.

I dreamt of being a cartoonist. But not just any cartoonist. I wanted to draw Garfield. I was crazy about Garfield, and I wanted to go and work for Jim Davis in America, drawing Garfield all day long.

For two years I drew Garfield obsessively. I covered pages and pages with Garfield, copied at first, and then my own creations. I drew birthday and Christmas cards covered in Garfield. In any spare time we had at school I drew Garfield. When we had to write or talk about our ambitions, that is what I talked or wrote about. And if not Garfield, then Disney. The idea of drawing something like
Aladdin blew my mind.

I don't know how that dream eventually died. My shaky artistic skills may have had something to do with it. I also remember life becoming all complicated at that time, and me developing some kind of eating disorder.

Somewhere along the line I lost that dream, and I never had such a directed one again. I wish I still had some of my old Garfield drawings, but they were all lost in the various moves that my family members have undergone.

For old times sake, here is my feeble attempt at drawing Garfield. My attempts at the age of 10 were far more impressive, believe me:

So what were your childhood dreams? And can you draw Garfield better than me? Huh? Huh? Post your attempts at drawing Garfield, if you wanna.

Friday, 3 April 2009

It dreamt it was a sea cow.

Random fact: My Chilean friend told me that in Chile, chickens say "piew piew" (not so sure about the spelling) instead of "cheep cheep" or "piep piep".

That's some weird chickens they have in foreign parts, innit?

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Where are all the pool noodles?

An attack of sheepishness.

I am still too embarrassed about yesterday's post to say anything but that I am too embarrassed to say anything. If you see where I am going, round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush.

I am too sheepish to write a post today or maybe ever again. 

So it is up to you. Today's blog post is entitled "Seamonkeys on Ice star has unfortunate peanut butter incident while on pool noodle. Far  away from any actual pool".

I shall leave the actual content to your luscious and fertile imaginations while I continue to do my ostrich impression indefinitely.

This garbled nonsense was written in a low-blood pressure haze* of half-fainting and shaking like a mexican bean on the train, so it may not be entirely lucid, but this is what you have come to expect from this blog I am sure, and nothing less. Someone pass me an urgent cookie before I pass out.  A lackadaisical cookie will just not do.

*much like yesterday's post was written in a haze of love-sick vomit, which  I am still trying to get out of the chaise longue.
Only I don't own a chaise longue.  If I knew what one was, chances are I still wouldn't own one. It sounds a bit kinky, in a French negligĂ©  kind of way. There shall be no chaising of longue in my boudoir, merci beaucoup.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Keep a bucket handy

What follows is a guaranteed pukefest. I have been thinking about my relationship a lot lately, mostly because I have had a major bout of feeble insecurity that I am ashamed of. But it is over now. I hope.

I have a secret tweet friend who regularly makes me giggle out loud like an idiot at work. Well, he is not an actual twit, because he refuses to sign up, and good for him, because it is a time vacuum and no mistake. 

But he writes me these hysterical tweet-long messages via email a few times a day. The secret tweeter is none other than my very own BFG.

I know that no one else would laugh at his tweety mails quite in the same way as me. There are things that we share that no one else could ever get; a common base of weirdness and silliness. We have words for things that only we can understand and long standing personal jokes and silly names for each other, and all those other things that make non-coupular (but not necessarily non-copular, you naughty people) folk want to hurl. And me too, when it is not me involved.

I can make no excuses for the mushiness that we indulge in, even if I would want to puke if I was observing the same in someone else. It is just what happens as a relationship morphs with time.

And we have had quite some time. We have been together nearly 9 years now (freakatastic rice that is nearly a third of my life).  I think we do manage to be our individual separate selves. We have no problem doing stuff separately, in fact every weekend he goes off climbing without me. He went to Antarctica for nearly two years. 

But we are also a Po-BFG organism, and I am no longer completely me without him. That is a really scary thing to admit, but there comes a point when you have to acknowledge this and come to terms with it. Without him I would no longer be whole, and in fact I really can’t see the point of life without him at all. 

That level of dependance and co-mingling seems  inadvisable, but it is too late for me to back down now. I need the BFG. I need for us to get grumpy and tetchy and passive aggressive with each other as only we know how; I need our long pointless arguments and I need our mutual cruelty. I need his sweetness, the way he knows and understands me like no other person on earth, the way he is a companion like no other, his whacky sense of humour, and all the sharedness that makes us the weird and intuitive fusion that we are. I would be left bereft without him.

And while I shall pass you a bucket so that you can commence the pukefest, I dare you to fall so far that there is no way to turn back. And I dare you to admit to it without  shame when it happens to you too.

As far as I can see, right now I have nothing to lose except everything, and that is the only thing worth losing.

So wah.